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Dare To Be Different

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You probably know the ad I mean. The one for a well known store where a lady with a smooth voice says words to the effect of 'This is not just any old fish and chips, this is the finest quality, environmentally sourced fish covered in crispy crunchy batter with tasty wedges of best quality potato...'

Our lady of the silky tones is not only selling a food product here, she is selling a brand, a lifestyle, or, probably more accurately, a set of aspirations. The hope is surely that when people wonder what to to eat tonight, they won't just be drawn to any old meal, not just wholesome - and good for them, but something that will suit them as a person that appreciates quality. Eating it will actually make them feel special.

Brands love to be aspirational. They love to be positioned above the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the masses of ordinary products. Why compete on price when you can offer a touch of luxury, something rarefied, imply that ownership imbues a certain elevation from the everyday.

iPods are aspirational. Their arrival into the world of cool spawned a seemingly never ending supply of imitators, both music players and other stuff, mimicking their whiteness, their minimal controls, their sleek design. iPods are something else too: Apple has managed to position the iPod so carefully that the term is often used generically to mean 'portable music player'. When non techy friends talk about portable music players they often just say iPod. It is faster and easier to say, and it describes something we all understand.

In a funny quirk of fate Apple doesn’t have everything its own way. Digital music is referred to stolidly as ‘MP3s’ regardless of the file format being used. Those unhappy with the iPod hegemony can snigger up their sleeves at that one, but ‘MP3’ has achieved the same nirvana of acting as a collective noun for a group of items that are similar to, but not exactly the same as, each other.

There are other examples from outside our techy world, Hoover and Biro, being two. Closer to home we have the word Google to mean ‘use a search engine’. And then there’s TomTom. I've lost count of the number of friends who've said to me 'oh, you've got a TomTom' when in fact, the device in the car at the time is actually from one of the many other companies making such sat-nav devices.

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